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Law Society of Ontario needs modernization initiative | Joseph Chiummiento

Tuesday, October 25, 2022 @ 12:13 PM | By Joseph Chiummiento


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Joseph Chiummiento
It’s budget season at the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) and the last budget for this Convocation before bencher elections in the spring. Many benchers will no doubt be playing to their voters and special interest groups as they comment on the budget process. Don’t be fooled.

The BAD news in the proposed budget is your fees will go up. The GOOD news is they will go up only a little — although that doesn’t really count as good news in my book. That “little” is about 9.3 per cent if the budget gets passed as proposed.

Bloat

The “Salaries and Benefits” category for all LSO employees total $72 million in the proposed budget. Furthermore, LinkedIn shows the LSO is also on a hiring spree with 30 new open positions. At an average of $100K salary that could be an additional $3 million (it’s hard to tell if those additions are included in the proposed budget). There are presently 552 full-time-equivalent employees — you do the math on the average salary.

The Professional Regulation & Tribunal (PRT) “program” costs are proposed at $30 million and represent 225 of the 552 existing employees —  almost half of all employees.

PRT and salaries account for about 86 per cent of the budget expenses when you factor out the library funding, capital improvement funding and compensation funding, which generally do not fund operations, or which are earmarked for others. Meaning the majority of those remaining funds (library, capital and compensation) aren’t used to run the day-to-day operations of the LSO. 

Any effort at reducing the budget or at real change should start with a modernization effort, perhaps with PRT, and in the area of human resource efficiencies, which combined are the 86 per cent elephant in the room.

Chicken & egg game

Cuts to programs like Professional Regulation are too complicated to happen without a committee study and a report and recommendation.  Ditto for cuts to salaries or staffing.  Budget cuts cannot happen unless program cuts or program slimming are recommended … and come sober October it’s too late to willy-nilly decide which programs to cut or slim down.

The result is that during debate on the budget, benchers are relegated to complaining about relatively small categories such as bencher expenses, costs of awards and award ceremonies or the costs of catering or the restaurant. Dabbling around the edges so to speak.

One effect of this is that when budgets are put before Convocation many of my colleagues feel they have been suddenly handed a fait accompli, with no option but to vote in favour. Those who don’t support the budget are then the subject of indignation and condescension, and accusations of irresponsible grandstanding, for failing to support the good work of the finance committee. How dare they, those deplorables!

If that fails to dissuade the thoughtful dissenters, underdogs or champions of truth, well then like clockwork the Federation of Ontario Law Associations (FOLA), Toronto Lawyers Association and many local law library associations coincidentally chime in to brand dissent as a call for irresponsible cuts and, clearly, a call to cut funding to law libraries (gasp). A cut to the budget does not automatically mean a cut to library funding, and one must question where such a fear or belief originated or who does such fear best serve. 

Motion to study annual dues freeze

Two of my bencher colleagues, Chi-Kun Shi and Cheryl Lean, have brought a motion to study a possible alternative budget that would freeze annual dues. This means they are asking the management to provide the Audit & Finance Committee a possible alternative budget that would cover the proposed 9.3 per cent increase from LSO internal funds.

They are merely asking to see what such a budget would look like.  No harm, no foul, right? The motion does not propose any cuts or elimination of programs.

An astro-turfed campaign of manufactured outrage has ensued. Benchers have received letters from the usual interest groups and activists bizarrely accusing benchers Shi and Lean of threatening library funding. 

I would love to see what an alternative zero fee increase budget might look like as a matter of more transparency, more accountability and ultimately an exercise in good governance. Failing to do so might be seen as stubborn complacency, failing the public interest and the opposite of good governance.

If the Audit & Finance Committee already considered such an alternative then great, forward the draft on to Convocation and be done with it. 

Modernization

The overwhelming attention brought by the Lean/Shi motion highlights the need for the LSO and the benchers to take this opportunity to modernize. To review its programs, whether internally or with the help of outside consultants, to find efficiencies and modernize programs. 

Solo and small firm (and all) lawyers are held to a standard to ensure their “processes” and “workflows” are competence-based in order to protect the public and best facilitate access to justice.  Perhaps it’s time for the LSO to take a hard look in the mirror, challenge its fear and embrace a process of change — to look inward even if it hurts. 

A modest five per cent reduction resulting from program modernization and process efficiencies could result in over $5 million in savings (or approximately $100 in annual dues per member).  In my opinion any consultant worth their salt would, no doubt, investigate scenarios with savings as “high as” or “potentially up to” 20 per cent of pre-engagement numbers.

The time has come for the LSO and its benchers to commit to modernize and find efficiencies, to reduce its financial footprint on the professions and particularly upon the solo and small firm practitioners — and by extension the public.

Joseph Chiummiento is a securities lawyer, coach and mentor to solo and small law firm owners, and a bencher of the Law Society of Ontario. He can be reached by email at joseph@chiummiento.com.

The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's firm, its clients, The Lawyer’s Daily, LexisNexis Canada, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.

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